Orioles advance, 5-1 over 2-time AL champion Texas

Buck Showalter thrust his arm into the air, then stood back and

savored watching his surprising Baltimore Orioles celebrate on the

field.

Champagne showers followed in the clubhouse after hugs from

their manager following a 5-1 victory over the two-time defending

American League champion Texas Rangers in the league’s first

win-or-go-home wild-card playoff Friday night.

”One of our biggest regrets of the year would have been if our

guys couldn’t have a moment after the game like that,” Showalter

said. ”We came so close a couple times. We got in the playoffs and

didn’t really get to.”

The Orioles were on a team flight from Baltimore to Tampa Bay

last Sunday night when their first playoff berth in 15 years was

clinched. Now they get to go home for another shot to overtake the

New York Yankees, with a best-of-five division series that starts

Sunday at Camden Yards.

For Texas, which twice came within a strike of its first World

Series title last October, there is nothing to celebrate. The

Rangers didn’t win a postseason game this time, even with Yu

Darvish on the mound at home.

They lost nine of their last 13 games in the regular season,

which cost them their AL West crown on the final day after being

swept by Oakland and put them in an unexpected elimination game –

especially after leading the division for a majors-best 178

days.

”To be honest with you, I never thought anything like this

would happen,” manager Ron Washington said. ”I don’t get

pessimistic, I always stay optimistic, and when things like this

happen, I am shocked. And right now, I’m shocked.”

Texas is starting its longest offseason in three years, while

Joe Saunders and the Orioles keep playing. Baltimore split 18 games

this season with the East champion Yankees, the AL’s top seed.

Saunders, acquired by Baltimore from Arizona in late August, had

lost all six of his previous starts with a 9.38 ERA at Rangers

Ballpark. And the Orioles bullpen was already scrambling after

Saunders, who hadn’t walked anybody his previous three starts,

started the game by walking Ian Kinsler and giving up a single to

Elvis Andrus.

But Saunders pitched effectively into the sixth. He also

benefited from three double-play grounders, including Josh

Hamilton’s in the first that sent Kinsler home with the only Texas

run.

”Just an awesome experience. It means everything,” Saunders

said. ”It’s special to prove people wrong. I’ve been telling

people all along that I’ve pitched better than my numbers here. …

I love being the underdog. To knock off the defending two-time

champs from the past couple of years is pretty amazing.”

Hamilton wound up getting booed in what might have been his last

home game in a Rangers uniform.

The slugger was 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, both on three

pitches. He swung at the first pitch his other at-bats – including

the double play in the first and a comebacker to start the sixth.

He struck out with a runner at second base to end the eighth, when

it was still a 3-1 game.

The former AL MVP and batting champion is eligible for free

agency, and the Rangers might not be willing to pay the big money

likely necessary to keep him.

”I hadn’t thought about it too much. I’m going to go home,

spend some time with the family and figure out what’s going on,”

Hamilton said. ”I’d love to stay here. They understand it and know

that. … Even if you send me off with boos, I still love

you.”

Four pitches into the game, the Orioles led against Darvish, who

struck out seven while allowing three runs (two earned) in 6 2-3

innings.

Nate McLouth grounded Darvish’s first pitch toward first baseman

Michael Young. The longest-tenured Rangers player got charged with

an error when he tried to backhand the ball, which ricocheted off

the heel of his glove and away from him.

McLouth stole second base on the third pitch. J.J. Hardy then

drove him in by grounding a hard single up the middle.

The O’s had consecutive singles to start the sixth before Adam

Jones’ sacrifice fly made it 2-1. McLouth added an RBI single in

the seventh and had a sac fly in the ninth, when the Orioles scored

twice off Rangers closer Joe Nathan.

Jim Johnson, who set an Orioles record with 51 saves, allowed a

walk and two hits in the ninth, including a two-out pinch single by

19-year-old Jurickson Profar that loaded the bases, before David

Murphy’s season-ending flyball caught by McLouth in left field.

”Me and my teammates and the Rangers’ fans, I don’t think we

all thought that it would end this early,” Darvish said through a

translator. ”I mean, right now, no. I don’t even know what I’m

supposed to do tomorrow.”

Darvish won 16 games in his rookie season in the majors, after

the Rangers committed more than $107 million last winter to acquire

Japan’s best pitcher. The 26-year-old right-hander was 8-2 with a

1.38 ERA in 11 postseason starts in Japan the past six seasons.

Showalter managed in Texas for four years before being fired and

replaced by Washington after the 2006 season. Darren O’Day, the

sidewinder who pitched two scoreless innings in relief of Saunders,

is one of seven former Rangers players now with Baltimore – and

advancing in the playoffs.

”I have a lot of respect for the Texas Rangers and what they’ve

done these past few years and the opportunity they gave me,” said

O’Day. ”It was more satisfying just to make the playoffs with this

group of guys. People thought we’d be making tee times right

now.”